Big life update for myself and one I would like to keep documented. After much consideration, research, and pro/con lists, I decided to add animal products back into my diet. My rationale ranges from health reasons to ethical and environmental reasons that I could write a novel about but will keep it relatively short.
The Nutrition Argument
It’s obvious that I had a pretty vested interest in staying vegan considering I was about 95% done my book detailing how to transition to a healthy plant-based diet and I’ve spent years growing a plant-based food blog. I feel like that’s important to say because in no way was I looking for an excuse to eat animal products again as it certainly doesn’t work out for me business-wise. But a huge reason I wrote the book was for myself. So I would have something to reference to all the time.
By the time I had decided to eat animal products again, the content of my book is completely done and I’m working on the meal plans. It’s important to me that the diet I recommend is 100% nutritionally adequate, but as I’m making my meal plans, I keep falling short on a few key nutrients that seem to be almost impossible to get enough of on a vegan diet (I say almost because if you were to eat 3,000+ calories/day, you might be able to get adequate nutrition. However, 3,000+ calories of low-calorie plant foods wasn’t possible for me):
- Choline: present in small amounts in many plant foods but mostly present in meat and eggs. It’s not impossible to get enough on a vegan diet but you have to be very strict with yourself and eat A LOT of food. I have a fairly large appetite and I was struggling to get enough choline. So what about pregnant women who require more choline or your 84 year old grandmother that needs significantly less calories but has the same choline requirements as me – an active 25 year old with almost double her calorie needs?
- Iron: vegans are expected to get 1.5x the iron as nonvegans because nonheme iron (from plants) isn’t as bioavailable as heme iron (from animals). Again, you need to eat a lot of plants to meet this requirement. It can be done but personally I just couldn’t eat enough no matter how hard I tried. And I really tried.
- Calcium: if a plant-based diet wasn’t deficient in calcium then there wouldn’t be so many calcium-fortified products. Plant-based milks and even tofu doesn’t actually have calcium – it’s fortified. Many plant-based experts will dispute this by saying a nonvegan diet is deficient in calcium, too, which is true when we’re talking about the standard American diet. But why would we want to compare a vegan diet to a diet that is causing unprecedented levels of disease? Why set the bar so low? Additionally, I don’t think we know that consequences of constantly eating fortified food, which is essentially like taking a form of a supplement. It’s unnatural, extremely processed, and totally disconnects us from our food. Nevermind the disastrous environmental impacts of many nondairy milks that most vegans are trying to avoid.
So, like I said, I’m making these meal plans and I keep coming up short on some key nutrients. At this point, I’ve read about a dozen pro-plant based books written by doctors and experts. I figured I’d take a look at their sample meal plans to see what I’m missing. To my surprise, these experts are also coming up short on the same nutrients, particularly iron and choline. At this point, I’m incredibly skeptical because this is what the plant-based doctors and experts are promoting. Their books claim up and down that a 100% plant-based diet is nutritionally adequate yet they can’t even back it up in their own meal plans. Morally I just refused to do that in my own book.
Symptoms I experienced on a plant-based diet
Obviously, I can’t blame my whole food, high fruit, plant-based diet for any of these symptoms. But once I started eating animal-based again most of these symptoms went away and nothing else in my life has really changed. This is all my own speculation. Take that as you will.
1. The last few months that I was vegan my teeth were sore almost every day and one of my teeth cracked. I’ve heard this happening to other vegans so I know I’m not the only one that experienced this. This went away almost immediately after eating animal products.
2. Premature gray hair. This is a sign of copper deficiency.
3. Lines in my thumbnails. This is also a sign of a nutrient deficiency.
4. Constant bloating
5. Acne. I presume this was an estrogen dominance problem caused by too much soy.
6. High cholesterol. This one was a real shock to me since obviously I wasn’t eating cholesterol. But sugar and polyunsaturated fatty acids can cause a cholesterol buildup in the body. This makes sense since I was eating a high-carb, high-fruit diet.
7. High blood sugar
I also want to say that as I was eating plant-based and these symptoms popped up, I did recognize them but I assumed that I was just having a bad reaction to something I was eating. I experimented with cutting out soy, legumes, gluten, grains and anything else I thought could cause problems. Nothing worked but I was so convinced that plant-based was healthy for everyone that I didn’t consider it could be the diet itself causing my symptoms. Until I did consider it and everything clicked.
The Ethical and Environmental Argument
Even after suffering from the above symptoms and nutritional inadequacies, I still didn’t consider eating animal products again. It wasn’t until I learned about sustainable farming practices that I questioned if a vegan diet is the ethical and sustainable diet that it claims to be. Which, if we’re comparing to the standard American diet (SAD), is true.
But the truth is a vegan diet isn’t animal cruelty-free (or even human cruelty-free. If you consume commercialized coffee and chocolate products, there’s a chance you’re unknowingly supporting child labor and slavery).
Most plant-based food uses industrial agricultural practices. Heavy loads of chemical fertilizers and pesticides kill all insects, rodents and bacteria that may effect crop production. These pesticides run off dry, lifeless soil and make their way into neighboring streams, harming the aquatic life and eventually making their way into the ocean, increasing dead zones. Meanwhile the soil is becoming so depleted that we have deserts popping up all over the world. SOIL IS LIFE. Just one teaspoon of soil can hold up to 1 billion bacteria. So how we choose which life is more important than others I’m not really sure.
A natural, organic and sustainable farm may only work with the presence of animals to graze on the grass, upturn the soil, and provide natural fertilizer to replenish the land. It’s a circular ecosystem that we have relied on for centuries and have only recently rejected. This is the goal of regenerative farming. To me, this makes more sense than a plant-based diet that relies on monocultures and food shipped from the other side of the world, where I have no idea what their ethical practices are.
By eating local, I’m eating food that’s in season, which is fresher, more nutritionally dense and supports the land. I’m supporting small businesses in my community that are doing things the right way so they can continue doing things the right way. And by keeping these foods in demand, they can eventually become more affordable, giving access to more people.
“There is no life without death. That is the true meaning of yin and yang.” – Lisa See
A lot of the vegan argument crumbled for me when I realized the amount of death that comes with a vegan diet rooted in conventional agricultural practices – the microbes in the soil, the insects and rodents, and the aquatic life. No diet is free from death. Vegans are not defying the natural circle of life.
On a sustainable farm with truly ethical practices, the relationship between farmer and animal can be symbiotic. The animal lives a stress-free life that they would never get in nature. No watching their backs for predators or searching for their next food and water source. When you consider all the victims of the human food chain (yes, including the vegan food chain), I think animals raised with ethical farming practices probably have it best. I had a hard time accepting this for awhile, but once I accepted the natural cycle – that there is no life without death – I could no longer accept that a vegan diet is any more ethical than a well-planned animal-based diet.
Eating locally produced food that supports your community, the soil, the water, the air, the animals and us as humans should be our top priority. Organic, no synthetic fertilizers, no herbicides, fungicides, and every other -icide. It seems obvious to me now that this is how it was always meant to be. Can something like corn even be considered vegan when it’s sprayed with pesticides, killing any and all insects and rodents in it’s way? I won’t pretend to have all the answers, but I’ll never stop asking the important questions.